Student vets face debt-collector over PCC errors

2013-08-30T00:00:00Z 2013-08-30T12:10:50Z Student vets face debt-collector over PCC errorsBy Carol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Scores of former student veterans have been referred to the Department of Veterans Affairs debt-collection system because of mistakes made by Pima Community College.

The VA recently threatened to curtail its programs at PCC after a federal review found widespread discrepancies in the files of student veterans, public records show.

Taxpayers are on the hook for at least $67,000 the federal agency wrongly paid out last year because the college failed to tell the VA promptly when scores of student veterans quit school or flunked out.

PCC says the problem is mostly fixed and the VA now is trying to get the money back from veterans who kept receiving student aid after cutting ties with the college.

“These funds will be recovered through VA’s debt-collection procedures,” said Terry Jemison, a VA spokesman in Washington.

About 1,400 student veterans attend PCC each semester under VA programs aimed at helping them pay for their educations.

College officials have never publicly mentioned the problem nor the warning PCC received from the VA as a result.

“If the Pima Community College continues to fail to comply (with federal rules), the Department of Veterans Affairs will proceed with suspension and/or withdraw (sic) of approved programs,” said a November 2012 letter to PCC registrar Terra Benson.

The Arizona Daily Star recently received a tip about the VA’s review and obtained a copy through a records request to the school.

PCC spokesman C.J. Karamargin said the college has mostly corrected the problems but plans to do more.

For example, more workers are being added to the area responsible for VA record-keeping, Karamargin said in an email co-written by Benson and Provost Jerry Migler.

The problems came to light internally late last year during the VA’s most recent compliance test at the college.

The federal agency routinely checks in on schools to make sure they’re following the laws on payments to student veterans.

When VA officials checked the files of 50 PCC student veterans, they found 29 mistakes.

That prompted PCC to do its own review, which uncovered several hundred more errors in the records on which VA aid is based.

The college’s review showed nearly 27 percent of veterans’ files contained mistakes, such as incorrect tuition or failure to notify the VA when students left.

Of 2,875 veterans enrolled between fall 2010 and fall 2012, at least 767 had errors in their files, PCC said in its written response to the VA.

Jemison, the VA spokesman, said agency officials are keeping an eye on PCC to make sure the problem is under control.

Another review will be done this year to test the effectiveness of the college’s fixes, he said.

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at calaimo@azstarnet.com or at 573-4138.

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